Local Moms Join Forces To Feed Their Broods

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And you thought your mother made enough to feed an army?

Three Payson womenBarbara Wilembrecht, Melissa Petkoff and Brenda Martell get together one day each month to prepare food for the next four weeks.

Each of them has children and husbands, and what the women prepare on that one day feeds the whole bunch for one month.

"It's much easier," Wilembrecht said. "Tomorrow morning, when I get up, I'll just decide what to pull out of the freezer. We have 'fast food,' but it's good food and we get to have it as a family in our own house."

It really is fast food. Each of the women store dozens of meals in large upright freezers, choose what they want in the morning, set it out to thaw and warm it up 10 minutes before their husbands get home.

"It's good for our kids, too," Martell said, "because you can just tell them, 'Run downstairs and grab the beef tips.' Then they pop them in the microwave and feel like they made dinner."

The children do help occasionally, but when the three women get together for their monthly cooking extravaganza, it's pretty much all them.

"These ladies couldn't do it if they weren't real good friends," Wilembrecht's husband, Cliff, said. "They are efficient. And they love the whole thing because it gives them time to gab."

Their gabbing takes place over the rush of running water, clangs of pots and pans, and cries for "more paprika."

"It's the only time we have to talk to each other, except for when we're doing volunteer work," Martell said. "Usually we're so busy."

The women plan their big day all through the month. They try a few new recipes, then compile their favorites and buy ingredients. They all help with the shopping, and split the bill three ways. The families split everything, but one thing is consistently shared: a few boxes of staple goods (spices, oil, chicken broth). They compiled those ingredients from their first stint at group cooking one year ago.

It worked right from go, they say, and has only gotten better.

The women cook about 10 different dishes, and double and triple the favorites so there's enough for the month.

Wilembrecht's two teenage daughters both like the beef tips recipe the most, but turkey pot pie and chimichangas are a close second and third.

"It's all so good," Cliff Wilembrecht said. "You could get any of what these ladies make in a restaurant, but it would cost five times as much."

He's not exaggerating. When the women got together for their most recent cook-off Wednesday, they spent the most ever, and each meal still only cost $4.60 for the entire family.

"This is so efficient," Martell said. "It's one really hard day and then the rest of the month is easy."

Wilembrecht said it allows her family to lead the kind of lifestyle that best fits them.

"We're so busy all the time I don't have time to cook every night. This works a lot better for us," she said.

The women have inspired another group to follow suit, and they have been successful so far.

"I'd love to see more people start monthly cooking groups," Wilembrecht said. "There are books on it and a lot on the Internet. It would give families a lot more time together."

The women recommend the book "Once a Month Cooking" by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg to anyone interested in starting a group of their own.

Elsewhere Eggs

(Shirred or baked eggs)

Do Ahead:

Buy eggs in bulk for best prices.

Make up dozens of these for freezing and reheating.

Buy and process any of the ingredients for use here and with other recipes.

12 servings

3/4 cup Light cream

2 dozen eggs

12 dashes Salt

12 dashes Pepper

12 dashes Paprika

3/4 cup Butter for dotting top of eggs (you might want to procure enough to butter dishes, too)

Customize Optional Ingredients

12 Bacon Strips, partially cooked (see note)

3 cups Bread crumbs, buttered

12 slices cheese (favorite type)

3 cups Grated cheese (favorite type)

3 cups minced or chopped ham) or corned-beef hash)

12 dashes Ketchup (mol-my kids, more; me, less)

12 dashes Tabasco

1/4 cup chopped chives, parsley or watercress

Note: The bacon will finish cooking while the eggs bake. Bacon substitutes also work well.

Steps:

1. Spray or butter individual baking dishes.

2. Pour 1 tablespoon of light cream into each dish.

3. Carefully break 2 eggs) or just one) into each dish.

4. Sprinkle with spices.

5. Dot with butter

6. Either cover and refrigerate overnight or bake immediately.

7. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 18 minutes until the desired doneness. (Different people like hard or softer eggs)

Note: I remove the ones I'll be freezing at the 12-minute mark, because they will continue cooking when I reheat.

8. Enjoy some now. If you have extras, cover the dishes with plastic wrap. Set in the refrigerator to cool. Once cool, freeze until the eggs are frozen solid. Pop from the dishes. Bag. Label.

9. To serve: Remove the egg disk from the bag and place back in the dish. Either zap in the microwave for 30 seconds or heat in the over for 5 minutes at 350 degrees.

Texas Star Chili

Do Ahead:

Purchase the chicken or turkey in bulk. Cook and dice in advance.

Buy a mega-size package of beans.

Make a huge batch of this soup and freeze for other meals.

80 servings, 1 cup servings

10 cups kidney beans (see note)

10 pounds ground meat or combination of stew meat.

2 tablespoons cilantro

2 tablespoons powdered kelp (optional)

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons pepper (white pepper if you have it)

2 teaspoons dried red pepper

5 cups grated onions

5 cups grated bell peppers

1 6-pound 10 ounce can stewed tomatoes chopped (or fresh tomatoes)

5 cups grated carrots

2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce

Steps:

1. Sort and rinse the beans. Soak the beans overnight in water. Drain. Note: To save time, you may purchase canned beans. Reduce the cooking time to 1 hour.

2. In a large pot cook the beans in water to 3 inches above the beans. Bring the beans to a boil. Cover and simmer for 2 hours or until tender. Check every 30 minutes to make sure the beans have plenty of water. (Remember, do not add anything salty until the beans are tender.)

3. In a small bowl mix the cilantro, kelp, chili powder, salt, pepper and red pepper

4. Add the onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, hot pepper sauce, and spices to the beans.

5. Remove the meat from the cooled chicken and dice. Add the meat to the beans.

Instant Thanksgiving

Do Ahead:

Purchase, cook, and dice chicken or turkey in bulk.

Either make your own bread and cube, or buy bread in bulk and cube.

Make your own broth or buy in bulk.

64 servings

2 cups butter (for dressing)

3 tablespoons sage

3 tablespoons poultry seasoning

1 cup finely chopped parsley

48 cups bread cubes or crumbs

4 cups butter (for gravy)

6 cups all-purpose flour

3 gallons broth (fat skimmed off)

16 pounds poultry, cooked and cubed (chicken or turkey)

Steps:

1. In a saucepan melt the butter (for dressing). Add the sage, poultry seasoning and parsley.

2. Place the bread cubes in large bowl.

3. Pour the seasoned butter over the bread cubes and toss. Set aside.

4. In a skillet, melt the butter (for gravy) and blend in the flour. Slowly add the broth and stir until thickened over medium heat.

5. Add the chopped meat to the gravy, mix well.

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